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June 4, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

0-2 with Derek "Clubhouse Cancer" Jeter as Captain.

Way to blow it, Yanks. They lost a game yesterday that they should have won, but blew, they lost a game today that they should have won, but didn't capitalize on their clear advantage in starters, much as they failed to capitalize last Saturday against Bernero. They are playing like garbage, and right now they deserve to miss the playoffs.

I realized a couple of days ago, that if the Yankees win the World Series this year, I will be genuinely ecstatic about it for the first time since 1996. In 1998, '99 and 2000, it felt anitclimactic, as though winning the Series was an afterthought to 114 wins, beating the Red Sox, and the first Subway Series in 44 years. The fact that they were short series that the Yanks never trailed in added to that feeling. Perhaps 2001 would have felt special, but there was something special for me in '96.

Part of it was the fact that I had never seen the Yankees in the Series, let alone win it. I was 18 at the time, had my hopes dashed by the strike, was devastated by the '95 loss (I still can't watch Edgar's double, and I still hate him for it), and the fact that they trailed 2-0 in the Series--and looked so bad doing it, too--all caused me to not expect victory, and to appreciate it more. In '98, '99 and 2000, and to some degree in 2001, I expected them to win. Losing hurt more than winning felt good. Losing still affects me strongly, but I've stopped expecting that inevitable victory at the end of the season. Winning would feel good.

I can't imagine what it would be like for a Red Sox fan when they inevitably win a World Series. There is something that a lot of older Red Sox fans have that I don't encounter in the younger ones, almost a resignation. They want their team to win, but they feel as though they won't. It's not that they don't expect victory--they expect defeat. My friend Jackie's father--a BoSox fan--told her after the Yankees won a particularly tough game to get used to it, the Yankees always beat the Red Sox in the end. It's not some irrational belief in a Curse, more like an acceptance of a fact of life. The sun comes up in the morning and goes down at night, we'll all die someday, and the Yankees will always beat the Red Sox. Being young myself, I haven't quite bought into that thinking completely, but it's nice to think that someday I might be that certain of things.

But when Boston does win a World Series... it'll probably make V.E. day look like a frathouse kegger.

Speaking of the Red Sox, they are one of the teams on the sabermetric bandwagon, with Toronto and Oakland being the other two hardcore teams. The Yankees are in the shallow end of the sabermetric pool with several other teams--not quite willing to go in the deep end. In the best-selling book Moneyball (which you can buy on the sidebar of my page...), there is a chapter about the A's strategy last season of eschewing traditional scouting, and only drafting players who they had statistical data on, namely college players.

A lot of people, I think, have misinterpreted the entire chapter. The A's did not draft the best players in the draft. They did not even necessarily draft the best players that they could have selected. They did, however, select players who were had the safest high-yield while remaining affordable. They could have taken players with more potential, and even players with more potential that would likely reach that potential, but those players were out of their price range. The draft philosophy of the A's would not have been the best one for the Yankees or Red Sox to follow, because they would be passing up on better players that they could afford. The Yankees can afford to draft a toolsy high school kid hoping he turns into A-Rod, the A's cannot. The Red Sox can afford to draft a college star that both scouts and statheads see as a sure-thing, and sign him for $3 million, but the A's cannot.

This is the core of the A's philosophy: determining the value of every player, finding bargains, and avoiding risk. Traditionalists react with hostility towards the A's, Jays and Sox because they use sabermetric statistical analysis to determine value. People like Richard Griffin, Phil Rogers and Joe Morgan seem unable to accept the fact that Major League Baseball is a business, and always has been, and if you're not going to run your business as efficiently as possible, you're a fool. Yes, the move towards OBP and SLG is going to make the game more boring, but the way to prevent that is not chase off the statheads, but to change the game. Make the parks bigger, deaden the ball, enforce the strike zone, raise the mound, and strategies like the sac bunt and steal become more viable, and the sabermetric teams will become more likely to use them. Taking the path that they are, Griffin and his compatriots are going to end up as baseball outsiders, because the A's, Red Sox and Jays are running their teams intelligently, and they're going to win and make money, two things that are going to attract every other owner in MLB down the line. It may take years, but it will happen.
Baseball people generally are allergic to new ideas. We are slow to change. took years to persuade them to put numbers on uniforms. ... It is the hardest thing in the world to get big league baseball to change anything—even spikes on a pair of shoes. But they will accept this new interpretation of baseball statistics eventually. They are bound to.

       -Branch Rickey, 1954